My debut Chessboxing bout

October 16, 2013

Not exactly work related, but a bit too unusual to not post about. Last Saturday night I participated in my debut Chessboxing bout at the Scala nightclub, London.

I’d randomly discovered the hybrid sport back in May of the is year, so am relatively new to it. It is exactly what it’s name suggest – you compete against your opponent in alternating 3 minute bouts of speed chess and boxing. I’d boxed a little before (although I’d mostly trained in Muay Thai) and had been playing chess for about a year. I thought I’d quite like to enter a proper competition, when fate landed me the opportunity a little sooner than I expected. When one of the billed fighters for the October 12th “Wild Bulls” event had to pull out, the organiser asked if I’d like to step in (with only four weeks notice). As with many things in life, I said “yes” before I had chance to think it through and so then had to begin an intense, month-long crash course in getting fit. My opponent Mike was a very strong chess player and I knew I couldn’t beat him in that discipline, so I trained hard with the boxing hoping that I would dominate him in that.

Then one week before the fight Mike injured himself, leaving me needing a new opponent. Jorge Crespo stepped in – he’s a very experienced boxer who I train with at the club.

The day of the event I arrived early as I was billed to be the first fight of the evening. I thought I could get it over quickly and be at the bar with my friends enjoying the rest of the bouts by 8pm. However, due to some last minute re-scheduling I somehow ended up being the last fight on the card – the main event of the evening! After killing several nervous hours watching the other bouts I began to warm up in preparation as the preceding fight started. The fighters were poorly matched in the boxing and their bout was over in minutes – suddenly it was happening and the next thing I knew I was on stage in front of hundreds of people.

The announcer introduced me as Richard “First Round Knockout” Frazer – a nickname I had suggested as a joke but somehow ended up being used. We put on noise cancelling headphones (to stop us hearing the commentator and getting any advice) and began the first round of chess. I’d sparred with Jorge so knew his boxing ability (he’s much stronger and fitter than me), but his chess was an unknown factor. It was an uneventful opening and then three minutes later the bell rang and suddenly we were punching each other in the face. I stuck to the advice my trainer Anthony was shouting at me from my corner – using the double and triple jab then moving out quickly before the counter.

Jorge was bleeding a little by the end of the round and I felt I’d done a lot more work and landed more blows. More chess and boxing followed, then as we sat down for our third round of chess Jorge made a huge mistake. The tough thing about the sport is the switch between the high adrenaline of the boxing to being focused and calm during the chess.

Jorge’s head must have still been spinning as he moved his queen into a position that I simply captured unchallenged using my knight. After that everything swung hugely in my favour and I started mowing through his pieces. Even over the headphones I could hear the excited commentator screaming that it was a massacre and that Jorge’s only chance was to knock me out during the boxing.

Jorge must have realised this as he started to loosed up in the next boxing bout. I realised he had coasted the first two rounds and allowed me to tire myself out – he now suddenly had way more energy and was easily slipping everything I was throwing at him.

Then something unexpected happened – I could hear not only my friends cheering for me but a large section of the crowd chanting “Frazer! Frazer!”. I think that patriotism and the fact my opponent is from Ecuador might have contributed, but either way it helped spur me on through the tiredness.

We sat down to the chess again and I realised I was also hugely ahead on time – unless Jorge put me away in the boxing it was curtains. The live tweeting kind of summarises what happens next…

Rd 7 and back to the board! It’s all potentially ending here! Crespo is a queen down and nearly 4 mins behind Frazer – this will need magic

Frazer establishes check instantly. Crespo starts to anticipate the queen coming into play and Frazer has Crespo scattered.

We get Crespo in dire straights as his king goes in on the run but Frazer keeps getting Cresoo in check. Time difference still staggering!

Crespo amazingly survives and back to boxing – Cresoo will need to violently finish Frazer but seems unwilling to throw down…

Crespo not operating with the urgency he needs as Frazer puts on pressure. Crespo seems unwilling or unable to pull the trigger

Frazer plodding forward and throwing with no real answer from Frazer at the moment aside some solid counter shots. Round over! Back to board

Rd 9 and we can’t see how Crespo can pull this out the bag! Frazer comes out strong attacking king. Crespo blocks and drops pieces..

Frazer smells blood and in his haste makes and illegal move and Crespo seems routed. About to drop the time limit with 4 secs left!!

I could see we had only seconds left of the match. Despite chasing his king around the board and closing it into a corner I knew the time would expire before I could achieve check mate. I decided to promote my pawn as the final move leaving Jorge’s king trapped between two queens and a rook. The bell sounds and it’s all over.

What a total buzz of a night. I’ve already signed up to the next one in December – hopefully against my original opponent Mike.

The whole journey from the training to the fight was also being filmed by National Geographic, so there will hopefully be some documentary coverage coming out soon.

Thanks to photographers James Bartosik and Markus Drayss for allowing me to use their amazing shots – check out their websites for more photos of the event.

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